Make Each Word Count

Three elderly gentlemen were sitting together on a train out of London. The first one said, “This is Wembley.”

The second one said, “No, this is Thursday.”

The third one replied, “Me, too! Let’s stop and get a drink.”

Sometimes, as with these men, our words aren’t clear. People receive early impressions of us by the words we speak. We must strive to use the best words possible. To improve your communication skills, work on developing your language skills. Here are some ways of making that happen.

First, develop your speaking vocabulary. Learn a new word a day or a week. A free service that makes this easy is “Word of the Day” sponsored by Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Subscribe at Checking the word for each day gives you an intellectual challenge, and I often find a new word to add to my speaking vocabulary. Practice writing the new word as well as using it in your speaking.

Second, when reading a book or article, if you come to a word you don’t understand, stop and check the meaning. Googling a word is so easy! You can both read  the definition and hear how it’s pronounced. See how the word is used in the context of your reading. This will not only help you develop your vocabulary but make you more conscious of the words you use in speaking.

Third, improve grammatical construction in your speaking. It is much harder to be grammatically correct in speaking than in writing because in speaking you have no opportunity to go back, analyze, and correct; you must be correct when the words first come out of your mouth. There is no second chance for correct grammar in speaking as there is in writing. A little book I find very useful is The Goof Proofer by Stephen Manhard. This identifies many of the typical errors people make when speaking.

Fourth, listen carefully to newscasters as they pronounce proper nouns. They have a responsibility to check out correct pronunciations and you can learn from them. This will help insure your correct pronunciation of towns, nationally-known people, streets, and companies. It is embarrassing to mispronounce proper nouns. For example, I used to live in Illinois, and it was awkward when someone in another part of the country would pronounce it “Illinoise.”

Fifth, eliminate “filler” words. Make every word count as you speak. Eliminate “you know,” “or something,” “okay,” and “All right” to mention a few. At all costs eliminate the verbalized pause! To improve in this area, practice silence at the ends of sentences so you won’t be tempted to use a filler word. Another way to improve is to ask a friend or colleague to make a nonverbal signal that you recognize anytime you use the filler word.

Whether it is right or not, people evaluate your education background and your intellect by the way you use language. Spend time improving your use of language and you will improve your credibility and rapport with people as you communicate.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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